Now he is pain-free as Tyler Chatwood looks to resurrect his career as a reliever with the Pirates

Tyler Chatwood was finishing his rehab from shoulder surgery at Arizona State when he threw a bullpen session for the Pittsburgh Pirates, his first audition in front of a major league team.

It was the first time in five years that Chatwood, a 33-year-old right-hander, was pain-free. The attention he received from Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin, who has helped rejuvenate the careers of veterans Tyler Anderson and Jose Quintana, made a lasting impression.

“We started talking and I knew right away that I connected with him and was ready to work with him,” Chatwood said. “He’s sitting back there watching. I don’t really need to give them instructions or anything (because) I’m finishing rehab. I feel the presence he had, being able to have an honest conversation with him, talk back and forth, and as you get deeper into the bullpen he would throw you some nuggets. That’s what I was missing.”

That continued after Chatwood signed a minor league contract with the Pirates and came to spring training as a non-roster invitee. After his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game, in which Chatwood went three-hit on three hits and one walk with two strikeouts, Marin identified that Chatwood was not on the rubber long enough, using his power too early and limiting his explosiveness. yours. .

“Then he told me — I probably didn’t want to hear it — ‘I got it. It’s an easy fix,'” Chatwood said. “First thing the next day, he shows me. It’s night and day when I was throwing harder and crisper and when I wasn’t. Identifying things I think it’s good.”

The Pirates are trying to identify whether Chatwood, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2021, can add the veteran experience they need in the bullpen. With 10 years of service, he ranks behind right-hander Rich Hill, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and first baseman Carlos Santana in terms of clubhouse seniority.

“He was a guy we identified with this offseason and had a lot of conversations,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “He’s done a lot of things in the big leagues. He’s been able to pitch, so it’s nice to see him back healthy. From our conversations with him, he is the best he has felt in a long time. That’s really important.”

A second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels in 2008, Chatwood spent most of his first seven seasons as a starting pitcher and compiled a 46-53 record with a 4.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 143 games. The Chicago Cubs signed Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million contract in 2018, but he was moved to the bullpen the following year.

“I feel like the biggest thing is you have to buy in,” Chatwood said. “When I went to the bullpen a little bit with the Cubs in 2019, I didn’t buy into it. I thought I was still a beginner. But I think once you buy it and you know that’s who you are, I think you can really embrace it and enjoy it more. It’s hard because you don’t have a set routine or anything, but you’re down there with a group of guys, enjoying your time and beating each other’s ideas and you’re always rooting for each other.”

Chatwood started five games for the Cubs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but became a full-time reliever the following year with Toronto and San Francisco. In 86 relief appearances, Chatwood has a 4.82 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, but has improved his strikeouts per nine innings from 6.5 to 8.4.

However, Chatwood was in pain. He tried last year when he signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Nippon Baseball League, but underwent shoulder surgery on June 20.

“I was hurt before, but I ended up having the surgery,” Chatwood said. “It got to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore.”

Chatwood knew surgery was a risk at this stage in his career, as doctors had warned him that recovery could take six weeks to eight months. He wasn’t sure he had eight months of rehab, but Chatwood’s main source of motivation was watching his young sons, ages 4 ½ and 2 ½, pitch in the majors.

“I want them to remember me playing,” Chatwood said. “When I got home (after his first game of the spring), my oldest told me I hit him a few times. I said, ‘Thank you. I know I did, believe me.’

Chatwood welcomed Marin’s advice the day after the Pirates’ spring debut as much as the sensation in his right shoulder. After throwing 27 pitches (12 strikes), he wasn’t hurt.

“I was worried about making pitches and my shoulder wasn’t bothering me at all,” Chatwood said. “It used to be, ‘I hope this one doesn’t hurt any worse than the last time.’ As far as recovery goes, trying to pick up a ball the next day wasn’t fun. It hurts. Every time you go back to throw it, it feels like someone is stabbing you in the shoulder.” It was no longer pleasant.’

Chatwood has focused more on the results than how he’s feeling, allowing nine earned runs on eight hits with six walks and four strikeouts in five innings. He has given up three home runs, including two in the eighth inning on March 10 against the Philadelphia Phillies, and opponents are hitting .348 against him.

Chatwood hasn’t hit since March 14, but is one of the final 18 pitchers in major league camp. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, Chatwood could serve as an insurance policy for the bullpen. It’s a role he’s learned to embrace at this stage of his career, knowing it could be his best – and last – chance to play in the majors.

“I’ve adjusted,” Chatwood said. “If you haven’t bought it, I don’t know if it works very often, but I think this is the best way I can help you at this point in my career. I was happy to start, but I don’t think I can give the team the most from there. I just admit it, now I can enjoy it. It’s fun.”

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at or via Twitter .

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